How to be Trans

It always comes as a surprise to me when I hear of discrimination within the LGBTQIA+ community. I assumed that a group of marginalized and discriminated people would stick together, having experienced social exile and not wanting to again. But then I hear someone say, “They’re too masculine/feminine to be Trans”/”They must be faking it”/”How can they say they’re Trans if they’re not…” and I’m floored at the close-minded words of a seemingly progressive concept.

What is the correct way to be Trans?

There isn’t one right way to be Trans just like there isn’t one right way to be any other letter in the acronym. Saying that someone can’t be a Trans-man because he performs femininely is like saying that a woman can’t be a lesbian because she isn’t butch and loves makeup or that a man can’t be gay because his voice is too deep.

The way that someone chooses to perform does not validate or invalidate the way they wish to identify.

The LGBTQIA+ community is filled with people who don’t fit into the Cis-normative/heteronormative boxes that society has constructed. Society said that marriage is between a man and a woman, a heteronormative belief. Lesbian and Gay individuals subvert this. Society says that men have penises and XY chromosomes while women have vaginas and two X chromosomes. The existence of transgender and non-binary individuals subvert that. It shows that there isn’t one way to be a certain gender. You can be a man with curves, with fat on your chest, and with a higher pitched voice. You can be a woman with facial hair; you can be neither on the simple basis that it’s comfortable for you. Gender and the way that it is received in society was created to restrict and label in a way that created hierarchies in our society (i.e. women as the weaker sex to keep them in the home). So why is there a correct way to be Trans? Why put someone in a category that the LGBTQIA+ community was created to resist?

If a Trans-woman says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. You have no right to tell her what she is and isn’t, just as she has no right to do the same to you.

The LGBTQIA+ community was created as a place where an individual could be themselves un-apologetically, a place where they’d be embraced for their differences and spectrum of identity. Invalidating an identity because it doesn’t fit what society says it should be is doing nothing more than participating in the oppressive system that created the need for the community in the first place.

 

 

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Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele.

Inquiry on Issues No. 1

Our blog team tables in Atwood twice monthly and one activity we offer to the students and faculty on campus is “Inquiry on Issues.” This activity provides individuals a chance to write down any questions they have about feminism (anonymously) that our blog team can answer here on our blog!

We have retrieved two thoughtful questions thus far and they will be answered by two of our blog members: Ruth Sybil May and Melissa Anne Frank.

  1. How do I talk to a trans person about pronouns if I don’t want to offend them?

Talking to someone about what pronouns they use can seem daunting. You want to be respectful without crossing any lines or boundaries. And as a trans person, I must say that I take to it kindly when people respectfully ask what pronouns I use, because it shows that they care and are aware enough to ask in the first place. 

Upon first meeting someone (or even if you’ve known someone for a while), I generally directly ask about a person’s pronouns in 1 of 2 fashions: What are your pronouns? or What pronouns do you use? I’d stay clear of the whole “preferred pronouns” because it is quite cissexist; meaning that cisgender (which means someone who identifies with the gender that was designated to them at birth) people are never thought of to have “preferred” pronouns; they’re just pronouns. Pronouns are mandatory, not just a mere “preference” for most people. And once you ask someone what their pronouns are, they may turn around and ask you, so be prepared to state your own pronouns.   

Also, try to be sensitive to the fact that it might be uncomfortable to be asked about pronouns in front of a lot of people; especially if that person doesn’t know if they are accepting or to be trusted, so try to ask only when it feels safe and comfortable to do so.  

Another good piece of advice is to default to using the gender neutral, singular form of they/them pronouns when unaware of the gender/pronouns that a person uses (and some people, like I, use they/them pronouns anyways). This way you can maximize respect by not assuming what pronouns they use prior to finding out.  

It can feel uncomfortable when first starting to ask people what pronouns they use, but it is a great habit to develop to shift our culture away from making assumptions about people’s genders based on their gender expression, and move towards a self-determined horizon where everyone gets to define their own gender and self-narrate their bodies on their own terms. And this can be used when talking to someone of any gender, because you can’t always tell what a person’s gender is just by looking at them.  

I wish you good luck on your pronoun quest!  

 -Ruth Sybil May 

 

2. From a feminist standpoint, how would the song, “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease be interpreted? This is nothing academic; I’m just wondering for my own sake.  One of the lyrics, for example, is:

“You better shape up
‘Cause I need a man
And my heart is set on you.”

While it is perfectly fine to be a woman and want a man in her life, is it okay to change for a man, or ask a man to change/“shape up” for her?  In the context of the movie, Sandy shows up dressed in leather.  She’s dressed unlike her preppy self, simply to impress Danny.  Yet she sings, “To my heart I must be true.”  How is any independent-thinking girl supposed to reconcile this?  I know this song is from the 70’s and written to be catchy; I’m just wondering what a feminist thinks of it.

This is a great question!  As a lover of musical theatre, I have often looked at some of them and thought about how they perpetuate the very stereotypes that I fight against on a daily basis. Even some of the best musicals can look at things in a way that isn’t great.  Take for instance one of the hottest musicals in the last two years, Hamilton.  While this musical is breaking boundaries between race and class, it also escalates some sexist, classist, and racist issues.   

Grease is a lot like this.  The idea that Sandy changes just to get a man is a sexist issue. Let’s be real, almost every song in the musical sung by Danny Zuco’s band of problematic men is quite sexist; from lyrics like, “Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?” to, “With a four speed on the floor, she’ll be waiting at the door.  You know without a doubt I’ll be really making out in Greased Lightnin’.” 

But the Pink Ladies of Grease aren’t much better either.  In Summer Nights, the gals are more concerned with whether Sandy’s beau has a car than if he can treat her well.  

While Grease is steeped in cultural norms of sex, race, and identity, it is also about believing in yourself, perseverance, and learning to be your own authentic person.  These themes live together in many of the same ways that our own identities do; they are sometimes confusing and conflicting. 

Just because we love something doesn’t mean it’s perfect!   

I think the most important thing is realizing where those imperfections come from and thinking about how our own biases work. Of course, finding a partner in your life is something that some people want to do, but it’s important to recognize that changing only for that person is not the way to go about it. I hope that, someday, Danny will dress again in that preppy outfit to show Sandy that both of their choices are valid for their lives. 

As for myself, I will enjoy musicals and think deeply about the problematic issues in them. I do this as a way to relate to the problematic nature even in myself, and as a way to relate even more to the world and people around me. 

I hope this answers your question! Thanks again for submitting and keep ‘em coming! 

-Melissa Anne Frank 

 

As always, we are open to answering your questions, and we welcome you to talk to us at our booth or send your questions about intersections of our lives to collectivefeminism@stcloudstate.edu. Remember, we will not identify you on our blog, so your question(s) will remain anonymous!

The Picture Perfect Trans American Family: Mainstream Media’s Representation of Trans Relationships

When you’re looking for representation of marginalized groups in mainstream media, you’ll likely be disappointed by the lack thereof. And whatever little representation you find tends to lack diversity and intersectionality and overtly attempts to homogenize an entire group or subcultural phenomenon. One such phenomenon is the abundance of intra-transgender romantic relationships; or put simply, when two or more trans people are engaged in romantic relationships (trans cisgender people). I find these relationships beautiful and interesting, showing that even though we’re constantly made to believe that we’re not beautiful, desirable, or loveable, we are in fact all of these things; we are enough for one another. And when we’re looking at romantic relationships between trans binary folks (trans men and trans women), another interesting characteristic is that, from my personal experience/observation, it is much more common to find trans men dating other trans men and trans women dating other trans women. But when we look to corporate media networks to mirror the reality and commonality of intra-trans relationships, what you will find are relationships between trans men and trans women.

Let’s take a gander at an example, shall we? The popular, online, British newspaper, Daily Mail, published an article titled, Trans or not we would make great parents’: Married couple who are BOTH transgender share their dream of starting a family as they desperately search for a child to adopt” this year containing a video produced by Mode.com from their My Life series, with this video titled, My Life: We’re A Trans Couple. In said video, we are introduced to Clair Farley (a trans woman) and James Howley (a trans man), who are a married couple living in San Francisco. Right from the get go, it’s easy to tell why Clair and James were selected, to be the public face of the trans community and represent what a trans couple looks like. They’re white, straight, middle to upper class and professional, monogamous and married, adhere to traditional gender expressions of manhood and womanhood, and want to have children. They’re practically the picture perfect American couple, complete with heteronormativity, with the only thing setting them apart from the American ideal is their failure to adhere to cisnormativity. I call this: transnormativity. They even want to recreate the cookie cutter nuclear family! How respectable and wholesome they must be! You think the editors at the Daily Mail should have titled the article “Trans People: They’re Just Like Us!” or “Trans People Can Assimilate Too!”.

And while this is but one couple’s story and narrative, it fits within a larger scheme of very similar representations being regurgitated to straight, cisgender audiences in hopes that these similarity politics will help cishets be a little less horrible to their fellow non-cis human beings. And while I wish these couples the best and feel no ill will toward them, I’m sick of the role that respectability politics and palatability plays into this broader narrative that erases the existence of trans couples who aren’t straight, who aren’t white, who aren’t rich, or who don’t want children, just to make cishets feel more comfortable. This type of thinking is along the lines of, “Well, if you can’t be cisnormative, then you can AT LEAST be heteronormative! Being a decent and open minded human being is hard, so let’s not add too much queerness or complexity in the mix so that it’s an easier pill for cishets to swallow! Let us get used to you one identity at a time! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”

And while I understand the neoliberal politics behind presenting the most respectable and ”normal” faces of trans couples, my radical and punk leniencies let me know that this form of slow, incremental change is hog wash, and it’s not enough to achieve trans and queer liberation. I want to see trans lesbians, trans gay men, trans bisexuals and pansexuals, trans people of color, poor and working class trans folks, polyamorous trans folks, non-binary people and genderqueers; basically trans couples of varying intersecting identities and marginalizations instead of almost the exact same story recycled over and over again until it cannot be recycled any more. Not all of our love looks exactly the same; and a lot of times it’s super fucking queer, and cishets need to get over the misconception that the dynamics of all forms of romantic love must perfectly model their own or it’s somehow invalid, strange, or illegitimate. I’m here to tell you that our love is diverse, unique, and sacred, despite the fact that we almost never get to see our romantic realities reflected in mainstream and corporate media. It takes place all around you, despite the fact that some would rather have us be invisible. We’re too creative and imaginative to follow society’s scripts, so we write our own. We know it makes a lot of people scared and uncomfortable, but they’ll just have to learn to accept it.

 

Sources/Points of Reference:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3618450/Trans-not-make-great-parents-Married-couple-transgender-share-dream-starting-family-desperately-search-child-adopt.html

http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/meet-bowsers-transgender-parents-raising-sons/story?id=28228493

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/23/transgender-teenage-couple-arin-andrews-katie-hill_n_3639220.html

Photo:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3618450/Trans-not-make-great-parents-Married-couple-transgender-share-dream-starting-family-desperately-search-child-adopt.html

 

 

andy-blog-photoRuth Sybil May is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film studies. Ruth is a transfeminine, non-binary person from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes. 

Reflection from the Post-Production of That Takes Ovaries

By Ruth Sybil May

A few weeks ago, I participated in the feminist play titled, That Takes Ovaries: Bold Women, Brazen Acts by Rivka Solomon and Bobbi Ausubel; of which I was a cast member. The play is an adaptation of the book similarly titled, That Takes Ovaries: Bold Females and Their Brazen Acts, edited by Rivka Solomon. The framework of the book/play is a collection of true stories submitted by ordinary people recounting an experience in which they acted of courageously and bravely, told through first-person narratives. The play was organized by recruiting a cast of diverse community members to enact these true stories on stage in front of an audience, mixing activism with performance art in a way that is humorous, yet serious and inspiring at the same time.

Within the play, I played the part of Drake, a young, transgender man on a path of self-discovery and emotional bravery. During his scene, Drake works up the courage to come out to his mother as transgender despite knowing his mother would not react well. After sharing his truth, his parents are apprehensive at first, but soon do their research so they can better support and love their son no matter what, bringing their family even closer together than before.

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Repost – “Tennessee Anti-Transgender Bill Defeated by the Voices of Young Trans People”

We found this great article this week on Feministing.com, discussing the defeat of a Tennessee anti-transgender law.  Not only does this article talk about the great work of some transgender youth, it also talks about some important conversations that government officials are having when it comes to this issue, AND it highlights some of the amazing strides in awareness and the devastating repercussions that are occurring because of trans visibility.

http://feministing.com/2016/03/22/tennessee-anti-transgender-bill-defeated-by-the-voices-of-young-trans-people/

What do you think?  How can we become more involved in our own SCSU community with assuring the rights of transgender students are met?